HMAS Albatross (air station)

This article is about the Royal Australian Navy base. For the warship, see HMAS Albatross (1928).
HMAS Albatross
NAS Nowra
Airport type Military
Operator Royal Australian Navy
Location Nowra, New South Wales
Elevation AMSL 400 ft / 122 m
Coordinates 34°56′56″S 150°32′13″E / 34.94889°S 150.53694°E / -34.94889; 150.53694Coordinates: 34°56′56″S 150°32′13″E / 34.94889°S 150.53694°E / -34.94889; 150.53694

Location in New South Wales

Direction Length Surface
m ft
03/21 2,046 6,713 Asphalt
08/26 2,094 6,870 Asphalt
Sources: Australian AIP and aerodrome chart[1]

HMAS Albatross, also known as Naval Air Station (NAS) Nowra (IATA: NOA, ICAO: YSNW), is an airfield operated by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), in support of the RAN's aviation branch, the Fleet Air Arm. The base, located near Nowra, New South Wales, was established in 1941 as Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) base RAAF Nowra, then was transferred to the Royal Navy as HMS Nabbington in 1944, and operated as a naval air station until it was decommissioned in late 1945. In 1948, the airfield was commissioned into the RAN as HMAS Albatross, as the primary shore base for the Fleet Air Arm. As of 2011, four squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm operate from Albatross.


The Naval Air Station's control tower photographed in early 2003, shortly before it was demolished and replaced by another tower, just visible in the background.

The current site of HMAS Albatross was identified in 1938 and land was purchased in June 1939. Construction proceeded at what seems to be a leisurely pace considering it was war time, until the base was declared operational in July 1941. The airfield was used by squadrons of the Bristol Beaufort torpedo bombers of RAAF when it opened in 1942. Martin Marauder bombers of the United States Army Air Forces (USAAF) were also based there in 194243 for training as torpedo bombers.

In 1944, the need for the Fleet Air Arm of the Royal Navy for shore bases led to RAAF Nowra, due to its proximity to Jervis Bay, being transferred to the RN, being renamed HMS Nabbington. This base was used by Mobile Overseas Naval Air Base (MONAB) No. 1 from 21 December 1944 to 15 November 1945. The base supported the British Pacific Fleet's aircraft carriers by providing shore based facilities for the Carrier Air Groups when the carriers were in Sydney for repairs and resupply. At the end of the Pacific War the British Pacific Fleet returned through its main base in Australia and FAA Squadrons transited through HMS Nabbington until it was decommissioned on 15 November 1945.

HMS Nabswick (Mobile Naval Air Base / MONAB 5) moved from the nearby Jervis Bay airfield to Nowra where it operated until 18 March 1946 when the unit was decommissioned and the site was returned to the RAAF.

In 1947, the RAN's own Fleet Air Arm was formed, and the Nowra airfield was chosen to be its main shore base. HMAS Albatross was commissioned on 31 August 1948, taking the name previously carried by the RAN's seaplane carrier, and the first squadrons were delivered by the Australian aircraft carrier HMAS Sydney in May 1949. Over the course of the next decades, the RAN purchased larger, faster and more capable aircraft, which led to the facilities at Albatross being expanded - workshops and test facilities for jets were installed following the entry into service of the De Havilland Sea Venom in 1955, while a new control tower was built in 1958. The purchase of A-4 Skyhawks and S-2 Trackers with advanced avionics led to more facilities being installed in the late 1960s to service them.

A-4 Skyhawk at Nowra in 1969

On 5 December 1976, a fire was deliberately lit by a Fleet Air Arm member in the aircraft hangar. The fire destroyed or seriously damaged twelve of the thirteen S-2 Trackers in the RAN's possession.[2][3][4][5][6]

The Skyhawk and Tracker squadrons flew from the aircraft carrier HMAS Melbourne until the carrier was decommissioned on 30 June 1982. This signalled the beginning of the end of the Fleet Air Arm's front line fixed wing capabilities, and also a scaling back of activities at Albatross.

In February 1991 RNZAF A-4 Skyhawks were stationed at the base to provide the ADF with Air Defence Support and participated in many exercises often flying below radar coverage and ambushing Australian warships on a number of occasions. A total of six Skyhawks and 50-60 RNZAF personnel were stationed at Nowra until No. 2 Squadron RNZAF and No. 75 Squadron RNZAF were disbanded following election of the Labour Government under Helen Clark in December 2001.


Today, Albatross serves as home base for the four helicopter squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm, and for the Navy Aviation Group, which coordinates all of the RAN's aviation activities. Albatross also has a number of lodger units:

In addition, Albatross is the home of the Fleet Air Arm Museum and the Royal Australian Navy Historic Flight.

Since 1986 there have been Learjet target tugs based at Albatross, operated by civilian companies under contract to the RAN. The first company was Lloyd Aviation, then from 1990 to 1996 Fleet Support (a company later bought by National Jet Systems) and from 1996 until the present Pel-Air. Each company has used four to five Learjet 35/36 series aircraft to provide the services;[8] present incumbent Pel-Air also uses IAI Westwinds for non target-towing support operations.

The naval base had the unusual distinction of being shared by a small civilian passenger terminal, which at various times was utilised by the Masling and later Hazelton Airlines companies flying small propeller driven aircraft on scheduled services for the Nowra community. Until 2004, the Royal Australian Navy Gliding Association (RANGA) also operated from the runways at Albatross with a small fleet of gliders used by both Navy and civilian members.

See also


  1. YSNW – Nowra (PDF). AIP En Route Supplement from Airservices Australia, effective 10 November 2016, Aeronautical Chart
  2. "12 RAN Aircraft Burnt" The Canberra Times – 6 December 1976, p.1 (National Library of Australia) Retrieved 21 October 2015
  3. "Nowra Air Station Fire" The Canberra Times – 6 December 1976, p.1 (National Library of Australia) Retrieved 21 October 2015
  4. "Court Martial After Nowra Base Fire" The Canberra Times – 14 April 1977, p.9 (National Library of Australia) Retrieved 21 October 2015
  5. Lind, Lew (1986) [1982]. The Royal Australian Navy - Historic Naval Events Year by Year (2nd ed.). Frenchs Forest, NSW: Reed Books. p. 291. ISBN 0-7301-0071-5. OCLC 16922225.
  6. Hall, Timothy (1982). HMAS Melbourne. North Sydney, NSW: George Allen & Unwin. p. 19. ISBN 0-86861-284-7. OCLC 9753221.
  7. "3 Wing AAFC – NSW & ACT". Australian Air Force Cadets. 2015. Retrieved 9 April 2015.
  8. Australian Aviation magazine, ISSN 0813-0876; various issues between 1986 and 1996, including No. 34, September 1986; No. 59, August 1990; No. 83, December 1992 and No. 123, November 1996.
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